Several Texas National Guardsmen, stationed as part of Gov. Greg Abbott's plan to combat illegal immigration through the southern border, are now are pushing to unionize amid reports of pay delays, poor living conditions, self-harm.
Military.com reports that at least six troops are currently in talks with the Texas State Employees Union due to the increasingly abject conditions of the mission.
"We're getting treated like sh*t," the soldier leading the organizing effort told Military.com. "This is all politically driven. I voted for Abbott. I agree with a lot of his politics, but not when it comes at the expense of the involuntary mobilization for upwards for 12 months. That isn't what we signed up for. We signed on the dotted line, but not for this."
"Fundamentally, deep down in my heart, I know that … there's really no point to this thing," echoed another soldier told Texas Public Radio. "It's a huge expense. It's a huge waste of time. It's a huge waste of effort."
"There's guys standing at our points doing nothing, so they don't really see a mission. They just see this as we're just used as political pawns for an election year," another soldier told CNN. The network reported that common complaints from Guardsmen stationed at the border include cramped quarters leading to Covid-19 outbreaks and delayed paychecks.
The troops were originally deployed in March of last year as part of Abbott's "Operation Lone Star," which has called for the deployment of roughly 10,000 troops along to the U.S.-Mexico border in an apparent effort to combat illegal immigration and drug trafficking. The plan was immediately condemned by immigration advocates, who accused the mission of being illegal, largely because immigration is federally regulated.
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Last month, the operation was ruled plainly unconstitutional by a Texas county judge, who ruled that it "violates the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution and represents an impermissible attempt to intrude on federal immigration policy." Nevertheless, the mission has led to the arrests of roughly 160,000 migrants since it first began.
While Abbott's initiative is no doubt exacerbating what's already a humanitarian crisis at the border for migrants, it's also facing internal ethics complaints from soldiers, who have for months been beleaguered by poor living and working conditions. Supply shortages, cramped living spaces, and low morale have led to several suicides and attempted suicides. According to Texas Public Radio, soldiers have at times slept in bunk beds in 18-wheeler trailers, sometimes with 30 troops in one trailer.
"These conditions are just, I think, unparalleled," a guardsman told Texas Public Radio. "I mean, really, the only comparison I could draw would be the Hurricane Harvey mission where we were sleeping in high school gymnasiums or other military armories that didn't have power. But you know, at least in those situations, you could explain that away, because a Category Four hurricane had just hit the city…it makes sense that you would live in poor conditions."
Back in January, the Department of Justice wrote in a court filing that service members were not federally exempt from joining a union on state orders. As Military.com noted, members of the National Guard on state missions do not have federal benefits, including disability claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"These are people who dedicated their lives to serve their country," Will Attig, executive director of the Union Veterans Council, AFL-CIO, told Military.com. "These members clearly felt the need to have a voice. What does that say about the state of affairs over there?